Ireland in the limelight as Italy await

Paul O'Connell during his playing days with Munster

AS IRELAND bid to move another step closer to their fourth Grand Slam, with victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday, every step of the journey is another step further into the history books.

Forwards coach Paul O’Connell, however, has recalled with fondness an era now in the current social media climate.  

At the outset of his professional career, there wasn’t even a hint of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

O’Connell recalled to RSVP magazine: “It was amazing because there was no social media. I think Bebo might just have been starting. The game was a lot more amateur and we had big nights out where we didn’t have to worry about being photographed for doing something silly. We had great fun.”

He added: “Because the game was more amateur, there were probably more nights out and they brought us closer together.

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“The game only turned professional in 1995 and the provinces really only took in 1999 when Ulster won the European Cup. It was new for the players, supporters and coaches.

“Being part of that, when it hadn’t happened before, was fantastic and we are all still great mates.

“Our wins really cemented our friendships, and we have a reference point we can look back on. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

It is eight years now since O’Connell retired from the sport, but he’s still instantly recognisable. 

 “I have a funny level of fame. It is more that people want to say ‘hello’ and have a chat, more than anything else. People don’t want autographs anymore, they want selfies. I enjoy it though.

“Small kids get pushed into photos with me, but they don’t know who I am because I am retired. Their mams and dads want the pictures.”

O’Connell was chairperson for the advisory group that oversaw the soon-to-be-opened International Rugby Experience in the heart of Limerick, a project first imagined by billionaire JP McManus.